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The Lemonheads

These days, “playing a beloved album live in its entirety” is the new “plowing through the hits at country fairs,” and for better or worse, It’s a Shame About Ray is the Lemonheads Record Everyone Can Remember, so tonight at Maxwell’s, they’ll be performing all of its 13 tracks. Hey, more power to them, the original “Mrs. Robinson,” and Evan Dando’s creditors, but this repeated trotting out of Ray also has the effect, somehow, of underlining how little resonance it holds once listeners have earned their learner’s permits.

Mon., March 12, 9 p.m.; Tue., March 13, 9 p.m., 2012

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The Lemonheads

Evan Dando’s punk-turned-pop group have never improved upon 1992’s janglerrific It’s a Shame About Ray, and credit the dude for knowing it: He’s out on the road this fall playing the album in its entirety. Won’t be the same without Juliana Hatfield on board (unless she turns up?), but “My Drug Buddy” can’t not kill.

Sun., Oct. 9, 7 p.m.; Mon., Oct. 10, 8 p.m., 2011

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DYLAN’S SUPER SWEET 70

Two days after Bob Dylan turns 70 years (forever) young, he will be feted by some ardent local fans at Dylan Fest 2011, this year’s fond incarnation of the annual cover-palooza. Norah Jones, Jesse Malin, Evan Dando, Adam Green, Nikolai Fraiture (of the Strokes), and many more artists will be on hand to share fingerpicked revisitings of the iconoclast’s greatest hits: We have a feeling “Maggie’s Farm” and “Tangled Up in Blue” will get some play, but will anyone dare croon the protest beacon “Only a Pawn in Their Game” tonight? Hopefully not, because that could skew a bit untoward. Bobby will come back from Mustique, et al., to pain on them.

Thu., May 26, 9 p.m.; Fri., May 27, 9 p.m., 2011

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The Lemonheads

In the ’90s, commonly shirtless rocker Evan Dando set the template for all druggy, actress-courting musicians who followed (yes, he can be blamed for Ryan Adams and John Mayer), but his sweetly solipsistic brand of alt-grunge was always welcome. Having penned the best songs about the girls you do drugs with (“My Drug Buddy”) and the girls you’ll never have (“Allison’s Starting To Happen”), Dando and his Lemonheads might be an exercise in nostalgia today, but damn if they don’t wear it well. With the Canon Logic.

Thu., April 28, 8:30 p.m., 2011

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The Lemonheads+the Candles+the Shining Twins

Beyond the presence of singer/guitarist/heartthrob Evan Dando, it’s difficult to guess what exactly you can expect at tonight’s Lemonheads show. Laidback folk-rock gems from It’s a Shame About Ray? Hopped-up pop-punk from the band’s 2006 quasi-comeback? Left-field covers from last year’s Varshons? All are possible. With the Candles, the Shining Twins, and DJ Tara Angell.

Thu., July 29, 9 p.m., 2010

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Suzanne Vega

Remember the ’90s, when all you had to do to sell records was pen an a capella pop song about sitting in Upper West Side diner, waiting for a cup of coffee? Who knew New York singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega, she of the smash hits “Tom’s Diner” and “Luka” (that child abuse pop ditty later covered by Evan Dando), would become an unlikely trip-hop superstar, inspiring Tupac and Weird ‘Al’ Yankovic to imitate her brilliant blend of folk eclecticism and dance industrialism? Out with a new record of love songs (most about her affair with New York), Vega is playing a monthlong residency at City Winery. With Yuka Honda and Spooky Ghost.

Thu., May 6, 8 p.m., 2010

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Evan Dando

Long considered a casualty of the ’90s, Lemonheads front man Evan Dando was famous for his long locks, addiction to crack cocaine, and dalliances with Winona Ryder and Kate Moss (though we all wish he would’ve married Juliana Hatfield). Such celebrity unfortunately mars the work: tremendously adroit slacker ballads about drug-cest (“My Drug Buddy”), death (“It’s a Shame About Ray”), and young love (“Allison’s Starting To Happen”), not to mention a laconic cover of “Mrs. Robinson” that puts Benjamin Braddock’s adoration to shame. In 2003 came the comeback, partially due to nostalgia, partially in desire for Dando’s particular brand of heartfelt self-hatred (see: Baby I’m Bored‘s Tom Petty-esque “Why Do You Do This Yourself?”) With the Candles.

Fri., Jan. 29, 10 p.m., 2010

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“Alt-dude from last century fails to embarrass himself.”

Evan Dando—the Lemonheads’ pouty, aggravatingly photogenic singer and only constant member—suffers a strange curse. Not a lack of attention or talent, certainly, nor the classic dilemma of wrong place, wrong time. Dando’s plight in 2006 is more dire: His early celebrity as alt-rock’s consummate cover boy made him such a bright star that it created a kind of flash blindness. Back when he was punking Simon and Garfunkel, we saw so much of him that today he’s all but invisible.

Opener “Black Gown” is a nonsensical if inoffensive banger, so effortless Dando might well have written it on the john; the record that follows is as catchy and unabashedly shtick-free as anything released this year. With the Descendents’ rhythm section, “Become the Enemy” (written by drummer Bill Stevenson) moves to Toto’s “Rosanna” shuffle, while geographical Dando tunes like “Pittsburgh” and “Poughkeepsie” feature balmy hooks to rival the1992 breakout It’s a Shame About Ray. Perhaps the political commentary on “Let’s Just Laugh”—regarding “a Texan stranger with a rope and straight razor . . . getting impatient for something major”—proves that these guys don’t have Crossfire chops. (For better or for worse, that tune is this century’s “Big Gay Heart.”) But Dando nonetheless emerges from Lemonheads as a powerpop elder statesman and a suddenly appropriate Paul Westerberg labelmate.

But how the devil did those two fairly unlikely bedfellows find themselves in the bafflingly unlikely flophouse of Vagrant Records—a label revered/derided for popularizing emo blowups like Get Up Kids, Saves the Day, and Dashboard Confessional? Maybe it’s as simple as the revelation Westerberg describes on the Replacements’ “Alex Chilton,” back when Paul himself was still a punk growing out of his acrid tastes: “Children by the millions sing . . . I’m in love with that song.”

If you squint your ears, the Lemonheads’ first record, 1987’s Hate Your Friends, has few such lovable songs, and there’s nearly enough snarl to bring to mind the skate punk that Vagrant cranked out when it started. If Dando quickly outgrew such noisy rebellion through the ’90s, Vagrant’s similar evolution—from punk to pop—reflects a much wider sea change. These days Vagrant could reintroduce Dando to millions, even if those millions are the kid brothers and sisters of those who knew him back in the day and have since tried to forget. After planting the punked-out post-hardcore seeds of early emo (see: Get Up Kids, 1999), Vagrant has since grown into a powerpop powerhouse (see: Get Up Kids, 2004), along the way evolving from a record label that issued ollie-accompanying music to a record company that could influence a nation and shape the tastes of a Vans-wearing generation. (We’ll see if they can pull this off with their other idiosyncratic 2006 release: the beer-chugging, nostalgia-riffing Hold Steady.) Like Westerberg’s children’s millions, Vagrant’s champions are increasingly in love with the pop song.

Can these new Lemonheads deliver? On “Steve’s Boy,” one of the record’s most cleverly crafted tunes (it’s also a Stevenson tune, oddly enough), an appropriately disillusioned punk underdog admits to his dad that he knows he “can’t make you love me,” but he’s quick to back it up with a promise: “I can’t make you well/I can’t make you love me/But I’m not leaving here without you.” The chorus is so sweet that you can’t help but want him to stay; you’re in love with that song.

The Lemonheads play Irving Plaza Friday night, irvingplaza.com.

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Too Bad

Nikki Sudden’s last ever show was a free affair, but a pitifully underattended treat. The evening’s unannounced special guest—a gangling guitarist with stocking cap and fatigue jacket—came out to assist on Sudden staples and extended takes on “Bang a Gong” and “Sympathy for the Devil”: chunks of the rock canon that serious Sudden fans might consider him a part of. Several songs later, Sudden, in almost a mumble, offered as an aside that his guest was Evan Dando. The lead Lemonhead was anything but demure, seizing vocal duties at will, as if Sudden and crew were backing him up. His presence did spur a cutting sesch for the books though, with the lot of them pulling off jams like you usually hear on old bootlegs labeled Live-at-such-and-such-Royal-Majesty’s-Hammersmyth-Odeon-
Albert-Montreaux
.

Dando isn’t the only aspiring rock deity with a debt. Sudden, long an obscure object of record collector desire, got much recognition in recent years for his far-reaching if indirect influence. He did important work with the Swell Maps, Jacobites, Roland S. Howard, and recently, Mick Taylor of Stones fame. But cred among fellow musicians doesn’t guarantee much of a live turnout. Still, Sudden played to the scarcely two dozen people just the same as if he had been performing for the sold-out capacity crowd squeezed in upstairs to see flavor-of-the-week the Gossip. Overdose rumors abound on the Internet—that morass of misinformation—but the medical examiner’s office has yet to determine the cause of death. What is for certain is that the 49-year-old singer-guitarist passed at some time shortly after the show.

That final night Sudden nonchalantly leaned into tunes from his all-over-the-swell-map catalog, like “Evangeline” and the recent “Green Shield Stamps” (referencing a boyhood spent on the U.K.’s version of food stamps). And when he gave a disdainful nod toward the crowd during “Too Bad for You,” it seemed the song might’ve been directed at those not in attendance. Too bad for them, I thought at the time. Now, too bad for all of us.

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Music

Ain’t No Shame

Evan Dando‘s show last week was all about smiles. When the crowd loudly professed its love and proclaimed his undying genius, a little grin snuck onto his face and then off again. When Juliana Hatfield—Juliana Hatfield—on bass, chimed in with her Sprite-clear harmony on “Stop My Head,” from his recent comeback disc Baby I’m Bored (“Don’t listen to me, listen to yourself”), he smirked over at her, two old friends with an in-joke. And at the end, when he turned up the lights and asked what we wanted for an encore, and the packed room bombarded him with titles he’d skipped in an almost 30-song set (“Altamont”! “Green Eyes”!) he just looked out at the noise and beamed.

Maybe it’s true that Dando gets “Paid to Smile.” But as he stood there, all lanky limbs, lank hair and linebacker shoulders, even opening his eyes occasionally and leaning back from the mic as if to hear himself out on the choruses, it was hard not to feel that he’d earned it. After all, he had shown up, on time, sober, with a band tighter than the one on the new album, including fellow Bostonian and ex-Come-er Chris Brokaw tearing it up on guitar. Dando sang every old song we ever loved, from “It’s a Shame About Ray” to “My Drug Buddy” to “Big Gay Heart,” and the voice was still there, weathered and golden like a knotty-pine plank—true, the high registers were faded out a little bit, but that only matched the way he sounds on your 10-year-old, passed-around mix tape. Not everybody gets to dig their own way down to rock bottom and then write about it all the way back up, but then not everybody can make being lost sound so pretty. —Anya Kamenetz


Cleveland Rockets

“We are rockers—from the new—OWWW!” David Thomas yelps at the start of Life Stinks, the 1990 bootleg released 15 years after the end of Rocket From the Tombs‘ brief, unkempt, unrecorded career, and 13 years before their first New York show, which finally came last Friday. Mixing (which is not to say integrating) mean Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath riffs with artsy Velvet Underground and Roxy Music loft science, these Cleveland misfits left their sentences unfinished; the lineup fractured in dissent, and their avant-tous set soon turned into history when factions went off to form Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys.

At the Village Underground, three original members re-created the group’s rough democracy: Bassist and Vietnam vet Craig Bell sang “Muckraker,” rooted in a stolen Bowie motif, and Cheetah Chrome, perhaps Cleveland’s first dog-collared guitarist, took “Amphetamine” and the sarcastic, doomed “Ain’t It Fun,” written by the group’s long-dead conceptualist, Peter Laughner. Thomas, big as a forest and walking with a cane, shook lyric sheets in his fist as the five-piece barreled through “Final Solution” and “Sonic Reducer,” an outcast’s sci-fi revenge fantasy. The songs, obsessed with death, chaos, high school alienation, and self-invention, are no less new now for being more familiar. And touring guitarist Richard Lloyd of Television—one of Laughner’s chief inspirations—retrofit “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” a nightmare of urban ignition, with a solo that pulled the song back to its sinew. Posthumous honors (a CD of rehearsal tapes and live shows came out last year) don’t seem to have smoothed over the dissent. Thomas, cranky throughout the hour-long set, glared at Bell and Chrome when they flattened the high harmonies at the end of “Final Solution.” And the singer introduced Chrome, a bald, wide-eyed crowd favorite, by his legal name, Gene O’Connor. “My friends call me ‘Cheetah,’ ” O’Connor quipped. Thomas rose from his chair to riposte: “Wanna make that breakup number nine?” —Rob Tannenbaum


A Male Model

Not that it’s a bad thing, but whatever Prince Paul offered on Tuesday at S.O.B.’s, it wasn’t a show. He simply doesn’t have the troops for that. Call him whatever you want—underground progenitor, early De La Soul linchpin, old-school monarch. Just don’t call him general. Unlike Timbaland or DJ Premier, there’s no roundtable of rappers who’ve pledged fealty to Prince Paul’s ASR. Instead, when battle calls, he enlists a motley crew of ill MCs who may seem like “Where Are They Nows?” but reveal themselves to be “Why Aren’t They Here More Oftens?”

The upshot? When he achieves synergy, you get the likes of Chubb Rock running down Brooklyn’s pre-Jay-Z pedigree, “I think Masta Ace was holding it down on Lafayette/Daddy-O was in Bed Stuy claiming the sonic of Stet/In Marcy there was the Jaz, while Kane was on Louis Ave./I’m from Vanderbilt where niggas don’t take out the trash.” The backwash? It’s kind of hard to get free agents to rep when his latest—presently Politics of the Business—hits the market and he needs to tour. In fact, when Prince Paul stepped onstage his only cohort was a redundant one—a DJ. Oh yes, there was “Kineko the Choreographer” who instructed the crowd, “No taking pictures of my penis,” and later returned as r&b crooner “Tony Massengill.” He demurred, “The new album is called Tender Titties,” then he ticked off a list of producers—including the RZA and Pharrell—who’d be lending their talents to the product. Prince Paul wasn’t mentioned.

In between such histrionics, Paul supplanted the DJ and cued up an assortment of his hits, digging deep for artifacts like “Talkin’ All That Jazz.” Then, abruptly, Paul said “peace” and walked offstage, through the crowd, past me and right out of S.O.B.’s in search of a smoke, a ham sandwich, or maybe just an army. —Ta-Nehisi Coates


32 Pac


On June 15th, the night of what would have been Tupac Amaru Shakur’s 32nd trip around the sun, a gang of people came out to pay respects and learn about the Shakur legacy Technically Tupac’s birthday is the 16th of June but the party and performances rocked way past midnight into the morning of the 16th.


This Father’s Day event was organized by Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Tupac’s stepfather, from inside the walls of a maximum security penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. The show jumped off in proper form with Black Ice of Def Poetry Jam followed by the screening of an interview with Mutulu Shakur. The lineup then swung into hip-hop acts like G*A*M*E*, Don Divino from the People’s Army, and Grafh of BlackHand Entertainment. Seven-Day theorists believe that this, the seventh year of Tupac’s passing, will be the year he “returns.” I don’t believe it, but in a sense, I guess this year we’ve seen more of Tupac than ever before. Hmmm . . . —Juan Pablo